Liver cancer is a life-threatening disease that’s newly diagnosed in over 41,000 Americans each year. While this number may pale in comparison to more prevalent cancer types, the American Cancer Society (ACS) warns that liver cancer rates have tripled since 1980. To make matters worse, death rates associated with this cancer type have increased by a shocking 43 percent in the U.S. between 2000 and 2016, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most cancer types are becoming a lesser threat over time, liver cancer risk appears to be on a dangerous upward trajectory.
“Liver cancer death rates have risen sharply in recent years, in part due to an increase in chronic conditions that cause damage to the liver,” explain experts from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). These conditions include cirrhosis, hepatitis, fatty liver disease, and more.
The good news? The liver is surprisingly adept at repairing itself of minor damage, meaning you may be able to reverse course toward prevention if you’re currently at higher risk. Read on to learn the four best ways to slash your liver cancer risk, according to ACS experts.
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Having a chronic hepatitis B and C infection is the single greatest risk factor for liver cancer worldwide. For this reason, the CDC recommends that everyone under the age of 59 should be immunized against hepatitis B.
While there is no vaccine against hepatitis C, you can manage your risk by being tested for the condition if you believe you are at higher risk. According to the CDC, you may be categorized as such if you were born before 1965, have ever injected drugs (even once, or a long time ago), took medicine for a blood clotting problem before 1987, received a blood transfusion before 1992, have been infected with HIV, or have ever been on long-term hemodialysis. Treating hepatitis B and C can greatly reduce your chances of later developing liver cancer.
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Though chronic hepatitis is the underlying condition most directly linked with liver cancer, several others could be putting you at risk if left untreated.
“Certain inherited diseases can cause cirrhosis of the liver, increasing a person’s risk for liver cancer,” explains the American Cancer Society. These include inherited metabolic disorders, primary biliary cirrhosis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and more. “Finding and treating these diseases early in life could lower this risk.”
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is another way to help slash your liver cancer risk, according to the American Cancer Society. “Avoiding obesity might be another way to help protect against liver cancer. People who are obese are more likely to have fatty liver disease and diabetes, both of which have been linked to liver cancer,” their experts advise.
In fact, some studies suggest that obesity could play a major role in your risk. A 2007 study published in the British Journal of Cancer performed a meta-analysis of studies on weight and liver cancer risk and determined that “compared to individuals with normal weight, those who were overweight or obese had a 17 and 89 percent, respectively, increased risk of liver cancer.”
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Most of us know that tobacco use and drinking alcohol to excess are harmful to our health. Both are known to cause cirrhosis, which can ultimately lead to liver cancer, experts warn.
“Not drinking alcohol or drinking in moderation could help prevent liver cancer,” explains ACS. In fact, according to a 2018 study in the British Journal of Cancer, heavy alcohol consumption was associated with an 87 percent increase of the most common form of liver cancer, compared with non-drinkers.
Those researchers also determined that smoking had a causal association with liver cancer. “Since smoking also increases the risk of liver cancer, not smoking will also prevent some of these cancers. If you smoke, quitting will help lower your risk of this cancer, as well as many other cancers and life-threatening diseases,” says ACS.
Speak with your doctor if you need help quitting drinking or smoking, or would like to cut back.